Archives for August 2013

Answering the Bell

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The Start is flat out important in business.  Some businesses have defined starting times that the crew is expected to arrive.  The classic “9 to 5” has generally been replaced by an 8am start.  Many technology businesses do not have defined hours, and many celebrate odd hours all together like the all-nighter.  People may even wander into the office at 10:30 and it’s the norm.

To be clear….

The clock, face time, and overall hours spent is certainly not as important as how you USE those hours.

Having said that……….I will present one of the business world’s great examples of ANKLE WEIGHTS

ANSWERING THE BELL:  The ability to show up, consistently and on-time.  No exceptions.

I’m sure this sounds Old School and a given, the “ability to show up.”  YES.  And NO.

Leaders are human beings.  They make split second opinions (positive, negative, neutral) that get shaped over time by real observation.  Good leaders keep open minds as that narrative plays out and most are positively inclined to let that narrative be a good one.  Nobody says it better than Woody….

Woody Allen Success Quote

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2 Simple reasons Answering the bell is critical:

1)  You may actually be needed @ the Start, a moment to play the game and help someone win….

It may be close to the START of the day.  You are looking for something critical, and turn to one of your team members for help, guidance, or a simple question.  You go to their office or pick up the phone.  They aren’t there, not because they were tied up, but because they didn’t answer the bell.  It happens to everyone….

2)  Like it or not, most people DO.  NOT answering the bell creates a negative point of difference.  

Life happens.  Traffic jams.  Buses not showing up.  The 6 year old throws a fit and drags their feet.  Dog ate your car keys.  The list goes on.  There is no need to beat yourself up over life happening.


Just don’t make “life happening” self-imposed.  Not answering the bell because of a late night on the town?   Playing with fire.

Some people simply struggle with answering the bell and are consistently inconsistent.  Some are never compromised by it.  It’s a fascinating dynamic in business how some people lie on either side of the fence.

Yes, some people have easier dynamics in their personal life (kid drop off/pick up duty) than other’s.  Good leaders filter through that and understand that “life happening” does not apply to all in the same context.  Get beyond that, put them all on a balanced playing field, and there will still be differences.  And without sponsoring a federal government study on something we already know…..

Those that consistently answer the bell will always be 2 steps ahead of those that do not.  


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Mental Hustle & The Notebook

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The constant pursuit of new knowledge.  Staying sharp, up to date & relevant.  A desire to learn, assimilate and apply.  In the pursuit of excellence, capturing new knowledge, letting it sink in and applying it will never go out of style.  


So many people let their professions pass them by, when everything is blatantly obvious in front of them.  A generation of people have fought the Sea Change in Marketing and are risking career obsolescence.  The good news for those that look to stand out?  Many people CHOOSE not to.  Freedom is not only liberating, it’s a difference maker.

The information age has changed everything to stay sharp.  So many tools come to mind.  The Old School used libraries, encyclopedias, trade journals and seminars.  New School, not so much.

  • Google:  New knowledge is at your fingertips.
  • YouTube:  World-class presentations and seminars you used pay to attend
  • Social Channels:  Experts are a tweet away.  Not all engage, but listening is sometimes the best learning method
  • Blogs – Every topic known to man

An Old School tool caught my eye this past week:  The Notebook.

Old School Notebook

One of my team member’s tool of choice for learning her role is a notebook, with detailed “How Too’s” meticulously detailed out.  I get a kick out of the notes, details and discipline that comes with it.  You name the topic, there’s a chapter of notes, some with highlights, different colors, etc.

There is value in the NOTEBOOK….

  • Imagine having a work in progress playbook to the key lessons and recipes to success in your role.  Wouldn’t that help? Not a list of to do’s, the key procedures, check points and success factors.  

Here’s something that strikes me as glaring in business:  The person that does not ask questions.  Especially when they are either

1) New to a role, and/or

2) Team results are not at or above standard.

People that don’t ask real insightful, knowledge-seeking questions throw up red flags.  It could be a sign of the following:

  • They don’t do their homework:  
    • Ever have a job candidate not ask questions?  I’m sure you drew conclusions that they didn’t do their basic research, or they couldn’t think on their feet.  I can’t think of one person I hired who fell into this category.
  • They don’t push the envelope on results and how to “break through” inertia.
    • In other words, the let the game come to them vs. take themselves to the game.

Here are some things to capture in the Notebook:[Continue Reading…]

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The Spark of Optimism

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Pessimism is one of life’s great energy suckers.  It is flat out draining, and at times, SELF DESTRUCTING.

Optimism is Pessimism’s arch rival.  It’s the force multiplier for action and positive energy.  It came to life last week on a trip….

On a business trip last week, I had the privilege of traveling with some fascinating, lifelong Memphians and we talked about a variety of topics.  But the most fascinating (to me at least) was when a past blog post was brought to life and we all went through one of life’s great questions:  Where are you from?  It’s a question that never fails to reveal a gold mine of learning….

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One thing has struck me over the past year:  Memphis seems to be in a consistent fight with a self-imposed image problem.  I hear countless people focus on problems, almost all negative, with no end in sight.   It’s a complex indeed.

I find it odd when people speak negatively about the very place they choose to call home.  The reasons are far and near, from crime, politics, school systems, you name it.  I’ve lived in multiple cities in a handful of states:  NJ, MA, CT, IL, OH, and Memphis for past 7+ years.  And I have never seen a city that fight with negativity more than Memphis.  And I still can’t figure it out.  Yes Memphis has some problems it deals with.

EVERY city has their challenges, no exceptions.  In short, Pessimism often tips the scales on the “sentiment” of Memphis.

But the negativity was nowhere to be found on this trip, far from it.  What did we talk about?

  • Great restaurants, one after the other.  From dive bars with great sliders to white table cloth to Vietnamese…
  • Great entertainment, family entertainment and surprise visits from stars in great local venues
  • Infrastructure that has great building blocks for a foundation of growth
  • Cost of living advantages, character and grit.  Great hotels, spots for a quick weekend getaway with family or just a couples retreat.
  • And in a meeting this week, something simple that too many take for granted: “Great tap water, no need for bottles!”

In short, what I took away is Optimism, not Pessimism.  2 views of the world that were could not be more opposite.

Downtown Memphis

After the trip I started writing things down.  Places to explore and visit that I have not yet done.  A feeling of possibilities.  Then I texted my wife with a couple, told her to check them out so we find them.  And her excitement increased too.

Don’t think psychology matters for economies and wealth?  May I present you the stock market!  Many a fortune has been made or lost on less than rational thinking, but I digress….

What if I was not engaged with Optimism for multiple hours?  What if  I were speaking with Pessimists who found every reason to feel bad about the place they call home?

I’m a pretty thick skinned person who always believes tomorrow will be better than today.  But I would be flat out lying to say I would have texted my wife with an idea or two had I’d been with Debbie Downers.  In fact, 4 hours of negativity probably would not have ended there.

Whether we like it or not, intense negativity lingers in the brain, few people are able to completely hit the Ctrl-Alt-Delete reset button on negative experiences.  The only way not to endure this?  Try your best to avoid negativity.  Like the plague.

Optimism by its very nature is contagious.  Unfortunately, so is Pessimism.

Optimism is a spark that creates forward momentum, energy and action.  Positive change.

Sometimes, the change is something simple, like a text message to your wife.


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The Leader’s Accountability Dilemma

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Leaders get paid to make decisions and take accountability for the ultimate results.  Not everyone is cut out for positions with high results standards.

In business, the ultimate scorecard is the P&L.

The $’s that hit the bottom line in relation to what was agreed to as success is one of the most challenging results areas to be accountable for.  Too many things can happen; many are out of a leader’s immediate control that makes achieving a profit objective challenging.  The list can be long, but falls into 2 sections….

Top Line Areas (Revenue)

  • Sales/Marketing over-run on budgets and not realize the incremental sales needed…
  • The consumers did not respond to the can’t miss innovation of the year….
  • Mix of product sales were off expectations, too hard to forecast!

Middle Of The P&L Areas (Costs)

  • Commodity costs spiked fast, too fast to react to pricing…
  • Manufacturing can have quality defects, cost over-runs, excessive over-time in the factories…

And on and on it goes…… line, middle area of P&L all combine to make bottom line achievement challenging

It’s the Accountability Dilemma:  Being accountable to an outcome with limited control over it.

The challenge for the Leader?  Inspiring the team to focus on what CAN be controlled vs what can NOT be influenced for a positive outcome.

A couple of tools I’ve come to utilize to recognize and deal with the Accountability Dilemma:

1) Fast Recognition Alert:  “Antennas Up” when I hear the following phrases, combined with frustration

  • Why do THEY…..
  • Why DID they…..

“THEY” equals somebody else, some other function.  

“DID” equals the past.

Both words are more uncontrollable than controllable.

The PAST can never be changed (only learned from).  There is comfort in the past when outcomes are certain, and everyone’s smarter in the rear view mirror vs. the windshield.

THEY, is somebody else, and rarely is the person’s house (“I”) completely in order to have the luxury to be consumed with THEY.

2)  Primary Tool To Shift The Conversation:  The Mirror Test

Have YOU done everything in your power relative to maximizing the outcome?  If the answer is “YES” that’s great!  But ask them to walk through why they think it’s so.  LISTEN

The mirror

The Leadership Mirror Test

One’s view of their personal performance may be inflated, that’s natural.  But when you probe, ask them for their view and listen, rarely will you walk away without learning something.

  • What’s your view of the situation?  What’s your role in it?
  • Is that all?  What areas could you be missing?
  • What would YOU do if you were in charge?
  • What would be the outcome of implementing that?

The answers will tell you tons about the person’s view of the world, problem solving capabilities and overall solution perspective.  It moves the conversation to they (out of control) to ME (in my control).  That’s the start of dealing with the Accountability Dilemma.

We have all see the stereo-typical “egomaniac”…..that also happens to be in a leadership position.  They talk first, listen, well SOMETIMES.  Reminds me of Dr. Evil, whose idea of inspiring collaboration was a dramatic use of the air quotes.  The accountability dilemma does not go away without collaboration

Dr. Evil Egomaniac

Dr. Evil, Not The Collaborative Version of a Leader

Wrestling with the accountability dilemma can consume the majority of a leader’s time.  That is OK, if progress is being made daily where people work on moving the needle in their sphere of influence.  But PROGRESS is needed, not inertia.

Inspiring people to feel central to better outcomes is crucial.

When faced with The Accountability Dilemma, employ the Mirror Test.

Ask Questions.  Get the facts.  Listen.  Get your hands dirty with people struggling with it.

Leadership, by its very nature is a contact sport.

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Manufacturing: A Pillar of the USA, & Media Ugly Duckling

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Manufacturing is a sector of the economy that always comes under scrutiny, and much of the business media focuses on negative aspects.  If there were a media “sentiment” index, I would bet Manufacturing stories are 75% “negative twist” vs. an optimistic bent.  It flat annoys me.

What I often hear usually falls into a few themes:

  • Costs are unsustainable:  Either legacy costs of old world pension plans or unions driving unsustainable bargains…
  • Quality declines are real…
  • “Just not relevant” anymore, we are a technology driven services economy….
  • Jobs are being sent over seas, and all the negative aspects associated with it (lost jobs, suspect working conditions, etc.)…

I will admit that I’m a bit sensitive however with a career that is centered around manufacturing with the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry, a little old $2.1 TRILLION slice of our economy.  When it comes to $’s, Billions are huge.  Trillions are staggering.

But why would the media fixate on $ relevancy of a major sector?

Monogram Martinsvill Manufacturing Plant

When I work at our manufacturing facilities, here’s what I see:

  • Yes, the basics of transforming “raw material to a finished goods”… I see physical assets like equipment, I see raw materials coming from hundreds of suppliers

Most important?  I see PEOPLE involved in every step of the process.

Monogram Production Facility Chandler, MN

  • Hard-working people, many of who drive 30+ miles to put a hard day’s work in.  Physical work, on your feet for 8+ hours
  • I see start-up of shifts and the energy/buzz with firing up a production line to meet the day’s needs
  • I see things going wrong like equipment failure, and people coming together to trying to get back on track
  • I see breaks where people come together in the common areas and unwind, talk about life and take a breather
  • I see 4 people in the corner of the break-room, with 4 cupcakes, and 3 co-workers, singing happy birthday to the 4th co-worker

Monogram Production Line

 The end result?

I see pallets among pallets of our product in a warehouse, waiting to be shipped to our customers, who pay us a fair price that covers all that cost to make it, and then, if all works as planned, a profit results.

In capitalism, profit is final measure, and the pursuit of it and all the moving parts is a fantastically challenging game.  

In any one of our manufacturing facilities, 200+ people come to work each day to try and make a life for themselves and their families, and in  the process, work to achieve the goals of our company.

It happens in every manufacturing plant in the country.

Every single time I leave one of our manufacturing facilities, I leave humbled, and energized at the same time.

The media doesn’t celebrate Manufacturing like it does the sexy technology sector.  That’s OK.

But I can’t help but wonder:  Have they ever walked through a Manufacturing facility to begin with?  They should…

If I were a principle at the local elementary school, a field trip to the town’s manufacturing facility is tops on my list.

Old School values are alive and well in the USA.  And there’s no better example than some of the nation’s plants.

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